From here:

“The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium is a gathering of leaders and scholars from many religions across the globe, to examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society.”

There might not be a more important conversation that needs to be happening right now than this. The moral failures of a society which attempt to erase or suppress the sexual difference of man and woman, and refuses to acknowledge the naturally apparent complementarity therein are only becoming more apparent and glaring.

If only in religious communities natural marriage and family life is upheld as morally significant and beautiful, then so be it. But I hope this will not be the case (and as we know, even in religious communities this is not always the case).

At any rate, this colloquium is happening now (November 17-19) and it will be very interesting to see what comes out of it. It ought to be of particular interest to those of us who are a part of the Anglican Communion wherein the nature of marriage and human sexuality is becoming less, so some would have us think, naturally (leave aside, biblically) self-evident.

I commend to you the following 5 of 6 videos—the 6th has yet to be published. These videos and whatever comes out of the colloquium will no doubt be controversial—this is a good thing.

Grace and peace.

I’ve been thinking and praying a lot this summer about my Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria that are being attacked, raped, and beheaded by ISIS for their faith in Christ. My thinking and praying has become more concentrated this week as I have been studying Revelation 12:7-12 in preparation for preaching on Sunday. In particular, I’ve been meditating a good deal on what John means when he writes that Christians “have conquered [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death,” (12:11). The word there translated “testimony” is the Greek word from which we get “martyr.” That is, martyrs testify/bear witness to Christ, and in this way martyrdom, though it appears to be a defeat, is in fact a victory. It is a participation in the once-for-all-decisive victory of the Lamb who was slain.

And so I think of my brothers and sisters in northern Iraq, and while it looks like a staggering defeat be not fooled, theirs is a victory: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” (Tertullian). This evening I read this vision of John’s which rings eerily close to present earthly realities: “Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years…This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years,” (Revelation 20:4-6).

From here:

In 2013 the General Synod passed a resolution directing the drafting of a motion “to change Canon XXI on marriage to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples, and that this motion should include a conscience clause so that no member of the clergy, bishop, congregation or diocese should be constrained to participate in or authorize such marriages against the dictates of their conscience.” Such a motion will be considered by the 2016 General Synod. 

The General Synod stipulated that the preparation of this motion should, among other things, demonstrate that a “broad consultation” has taken place. To that end, a Commission on the Marriage Canon was established, and an important part of its mandate includes inviting “signed written submissions on the matter of amending Canon XXI (“On Marriage in the Church”) so as to provide for same-sex marriage in our church from any member of the Anglican Church of Canada who wishes to make such a submission.”

As members of the Anglican Church of Canada, your input is vitally important as we enter this process of discernment together, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This is an important moment in the life of the Anglican Church of Canada, so, I decided to add my voice to those who are taking the Commission on the Marriage Canon up on it’s request for input. You can see all of the responses here (updated regularly).

My own submission, which I have just sent in, will no doubt be posted there in the next day or two. For now I offer it here.

 

***

 

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:1-5)

To begin, a question: Why is it that in situations of conflict Christians often find themselves accomplices in war, rather than agents of peace? I offer this answer: It is because we find it difficult to distance ourselves from our selves and our own culture and so we echo its reigning opinions and mimic its practices. When North American Christians can so easily kill their brothers and sisters in, for example, Iraq, we fail to keep the vision of God’s future alive. In times of war, we need our brothers and sisters on the other side to pull us out of the enclosure of our own culture and its own peculiar set of prejudices so that we can hear afresh the “one Word of God.” In this way, and only in this way, we might once again become salt to a world ravaged by strife.[1]

To my brothers and sisters in the Anglican Church of Canada, and to those who have been selected to serve the church by getting to work on the Commission on the Marriage Canon: I urge you not to go forward with the proposed changes to Canon XXI, “to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples.” There are, to be sure, theological, historical, sociological, and Biblical reasons not to do so. Some of these, which centre on procreation and the rearing of children, the condemnation of same-sex intercourse in Scripture and Tradition, and the Scriptural and theological significance of created difference (including male-female differentiation) as a part of the good ordering of creation and a sign of Christ and the church, are ones by which I am personally persuaded. But I will leave it to others to articulate them for your study. In this case, my primary purpose is to urge you to maintain our traditional canon on the basis of love. Namely, love for our sisters and brothers in Christ not only throughout the world but also throughout time, that great cloud of witnesses! I urge you on the basis of Christ’s own love (“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ…”): that is, the laying down of one’s self for the sake of others.

It is clear that Canadian society at large has moved on in this matter: two people of the same sex, our civil law now affirms, ought to be able to get married in the same way as two people of the opposite sex. Some in the Anglican Church of Canada regard our arriving late to the party as a terrible tragedy, “Why is the church always behind the times?!” they cry out. Much has been written about the relationship between church and culture but my question is this: To whom do Christians owe their allegiance? I should hope that the obvious answer is, to the risen and living Jesus.

There is a less obvious though no less important answer, however: Christians owe their allegiance to one another. You and I are bound to Christ and because we are bound to Christ we are bound to one another. The vast majority of the church (Anglican or otherwise) is for the traditional understanding of marriage as currently outlined in Canon XXI. It is important to realize, though, that this majority is not some powerful bastion of rich entrenched interests; just the opposite. Those we are bound to are the poor church of the majority world, not only materially deprived but often politically beleaguered. We are also bound to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as well, a reality that requires compassionate, loving, and truthful, pastoral care. But we must not rush ahead in these matters and stress further the tensions between wealthy Western churches and our poor brothers and sisters that compose the majority of our own Anglican Communion. “But that’s restrictive and confining!” some would say. Yes, it is. But there is no other way to be Christian because this is the way that God in Christ has loved us—by giving Himself, all of Himself, entirely to us. And God’s self-sacrificial love in Christ bears fruit—us. The church grows out of and is sustained by this very love, and we are called to participate in it as well: “be of the same mind, having the same love…” May we be so willing as to sacrifice our conscience on this matter, at this time, for the good of the whole church.

It is no secret that the creation of liturgical rites for the blessing of same-sex unions in the Diocese of New Westminster and the consecration as bishop of Gene Robinson in the Diocese of New Hampshire were catalysts for significant stress and fracturing within our Anglican Communion. In hindsight, were these the sort of self-sacrificially loving acts by which we regard our global sisters and brothers in Christ as better than ourselves? I wouldn’t want to be the one charged with making that case. When you make an agreement with someone—as bishops did at Lambeth 1998, for example—we are not then free to go our own way. This destroys trust and disrupts the entire processes necessary for discerning our future.

The blood of Christ that binds us together as brothers and sisters is greater and more precious than the blood, the language, the customs, political allegiances, or economic interests that may separate us. We belong to Christ and as such we belong to one another. For the sake of love, the Anglican Church of Canada must reject, therefore, the false doctrine that would have us give allegiance to the culture and the nation which we inhabit above the commitment to our brothers and sisters from other cultures and nations, servants of the one Jesus Christ, our common Lord.

Thus, I would urge the Anglican Church of Canada and the Commission on the Marriage Canon to listen to the voices of our sisters and brothers in the Anglican Communion and to keep Canon XXI as is. Perhaps we have become unaware of the ways in which our culture has subverted our faith and have thus lost a place from which to judge our own culture. This may be of no fault of our own, but in order to maintain our allegiance to Jesus Christ, we need to nurture our love and commitment to the multicultural community of Anglicans (not to mention other Christian churches) throughout the world. May we, in love, refuse to abandon that which we together with our brothers and sisters discerned, until we together discern another way forward.

We cannot be committed to Christ apart from a commitment to the community of Christ. Yet, by changing the marriage canon, the Anglican Church of Canada would be declaring itself sufficient to itself and to its own culture. We should resist this and be open to all other churches and on this very important matter we would do well to slow down and listen to our brothers and sisters whom we so desperately need. This would require sacrifice indeed, because this is love.

Grace and peace,

Jonathan R. Turtle

Parish Assistant, St. Matthew’s First Avenue

Diocese of Toronto

jonathan@stmatthewsriverdale.org

 

[1] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p.54.

“May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable. May they rejoice that they will never again be taken for callow, black-haired boys. And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed. May we all sit long enough for reserve to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men.

We are great, my friend; we shall not be saved for trampling that greatness under foot. Ecce tu pulcher es, dilecte mi, et decorus. Lectulus noster floridus. Tigna domorum nostrarum cedrina, laquearia nostra cypressina. Ecce iste venit, saliens in montibus, transilens colles. Come then; leap upon these mountains, skip upon these hills and heights of earth. The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it. The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love. It is a place for men, not ghosts—for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem.

Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthood, He makes all things new. Our Last Home will be home indeed.”

—Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, 180-1.

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, 2014 – Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

NB: I am greatly indebted to Fr. Robert Farrar Capon and his work on the parables of Jesus, for which I am deeply grateful.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” (Matthew 13:47-50).

There was no shortage of material from which to preach this week. Our gospel reading alone contains no less than five distinct parables about the kingdom. Nevertheless, I’ve chosen to preach mostly on this final parable of the net, because it is the last of the kingdom parables in Matthew’s gospel which Catherine has been preaching on these last two weeks. As such, it serves in many ways to sum up, if you will, the kingdom parables that precede it — the sower, the weeds and the wheat, the mustard seed, the yeast, and so on.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea.” This isn’t just any kind of net, though. No this net, this is a particular kind of net. In fact, this is the only place in the New Testament that this particular Greek word (sagēnē) shows up and it describes a dragnet — one that reaches to the very bottom and, as it is dragged through the water, indiscriminately takes everything in its path.

As the dragnet gathers up everything in its path so too the kingdom of heaven indiscriminately gathers up everything in its path.

Now, you and I picture the net containing fish and the fish being representative of people but, in fact, the word “fish” does not actually occur here. We naturally supply it and perhaps that is just what Jesus had in mind but since it is not present maybe something can be made of its absence. Indeed, the net of the kingdom touches everything in the world — not just souls, but bodies; not just people, but all things. Not only is the whole human race gathered into the kingdom, the entire physical order of the world, the whole cosmos, is drawn into the kingdom by the mystery of the Word — “and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,” (Colossians 1:20). Just as the net gathers all things it meets in the sea and brings them to shore so too the kingdom gathers home to God everything in the world: “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all,” (1 Corinthians 15:28). The redeemed order is not the created order forsaken; it is the created order, all of it, raised and glorified (Capon).

From this parable we can already begin to see revealed two things about the kingdom, what we might call it’s catholicity and its actual working. The parables of the yeast and the mustard seed enlighten here. Regarding catholicity, just as all things are caught up into the net, so too the whole loaf has been leavened. The hiding of the yeast in the dough is both more mysterious and more pervasive than any of the hidings Jesus has used thus far to illustrate the kingdom. For example, seeds, if you are willing, can be found and dug up again. Not so with yeast.

Just as the yeast, once it is in the dough, is so intimate a part of the lump as to be indistinguishable from it, undiscoverable in it, and irretrievable out of it, so is the kingdom in this world (Capon). The Word, who is the yeast has left not one scrap of this lump of a world unleavened.

On the actual working of the kingdom, just as the net does its job and brings all that it has gathered to the shore so too the small mustard seed grows up into the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree. This parable reveals the wonderful discrepancy between the hiddenness of the kingdom at its sowing and the lush manifestation of it in its final successful fruition. Notice that in the parable of the mustard seed there is no element of a response, either hostile or receptive, lest we think the kingdom might need our cooperation in order to come out right. Like the mustard seed and the net, the kingdom of heaven will accomplish all that it will accomplish.

Alright, back to the net. If the kingdom is like the net, gathering every kind and rejecting nothing, then the church as a sacrament of the kingdom — that is, a visible sign of a presently invisible mystery — should avoid the temptation to act like a sport fisherman who is only interested in this or that particular prize fish. Specifically, the church should not get itself into the habit of rejecting as junk the human equivalents of the old boots, bottles, and beer cans that such a dragnet would inevitably dredge up (Capon). At the very least, we should definitely not attempt, in this world, to do the kind of sorting out that the kingdom quite clearly refuses to do until the next. But alas, excommunication has been a favourite past-time of the church since the very beginning. In the words of Capon, “the practice of tossing out rotten types while the net is still in the water has been almost everybody’s idea of a terrific way to further the kingdom — everybody’s, that is, except Jesus’”. The church, not least the Anglican church, would do well to keep this in mind especially in light of our present and ongoing struggles within the Communion. To be sure, a sorting, a day of judgement, is quite clearly on the way, but it does not take place before then, not least by our hands.

I was speaking with someone just the other day who had no real issue with division in the church because some matters were simply worth dividing over. “What about reform?” this person might ask. Well, like everything else about the kingdom, reform comes not when we decide to enforce it but only when God brings it about in his own good time. If he is willing to wait for it, why should the church be in such a rush (Capon)?

Of course, Jesus does indeed get around to the subject of judgement. In the parable we hear: “when [the net] was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.” However, the text does not suggest that the “good” and “bad” are so judged based on theirown inherent goodness or badness. In fact, “good” and “bad” are rather confusing translations. The word translated “good” (kalos) has overtones of “beautiful,” “fine,” or “fair” and as such is not as narrowly moralistic as the other common Greek word for “good” (agathos). The distinction is blunt rather than sharp, but the distinction is nevertheless there. The word translated “bad” (sapros) means, “rotten, putrid, corrupt, worthless, useless.” Thus, the criterion is not the innate goodness or badness of the fish themselves, but their acceptability to the fisherman — whatever serves the fisherman’s purpose is kept; whatever does not is tossed out.

There is always the possibility, note, that some of the damnedest things might be saved: old rusty anchors and hunks of driftwood might just make the cut if somebody took a shine to them. Anyone who is married to a garage-saler knows this well — one person’s junk is another person’s treasure, sort of.

The net contains many things, but there is nothing, however weak and feeble in and of itself, that absolutely has to be gotten rid of. Whatever sorting is done depends entirely on the the disposition of the sorters — goodness is in the eye of the Beholder (Capon).

And just as the fishermen, not the fish, set the standard for the day of judgement on the beach so it is the King of the kingdom who sets the standard for the Last Day of the world. Note first that this occurs after the general resurrection so that every last person who arrives at it arrives in the power of Jesus’ reconciliation, that is his death and resurrection: “The only sentence to be pronounced as far as the Judge himself is concerned is a sentence to life, and life abundant,” (Capon).

No one has to accept that acceptance, of course, but nobody goes to hell because they had a bad track record, at least not any more than anyone goes to heaven because they had a good one. The point is that we are not judged based on our performance — if that were the case, who could stand? Rather, we are judged by what Jesus has accomplished on the cross for us, when he pronounced an ultimately authoritative “good” (kala) over the whole wide world that he has caught in the net of his reconciliation. Only those who would rather argue with that gracious word are pronounced “bad” (sapra). Or as Capon put it:

“Both heaven and hell are populated entirely and only by forgiven sinners. Hell is just a courtesy for those who insist they want no part of forgiveness.”

And if on the cross King Jesus has reconciled every last sinner to himself should the church — the sign to the world of this kingdom forgiveness — not pronounce this same “good” (kala) over sinners? Everybody is somebody for whom Christ died. What a catastrophic misrepresentation then when the church chases questionable types from its midst. If indeed all people and all things have been caught up in this pervasive net then may the church resemble less a refined group of folks who are happily married and never get drunk and just be what we really are, “a random sampling of the broken, sinful, half-cocked world that God in Christ loves, dampened by the waters of baptism but in no way necessarily turned into perfect peaches by them,” (Capon). And if this reality should at times tempt us to despair, may we be patient and trust knowing that the kingdom is, and has never not been, at work in the world and in us and that its successful fruition does not depend on our cooperation — though let us hear the call to come and repent and really participate in the work of the kingdom as we really are. Let the Pharisees take care of whatever judging they want to, but let the church stay a million miles away. But no matter what we do — like the seed, the yeast, and the net — the kingdom works anyway, and that’s something to be joyful about. Thanks be to God.

Sermon was preached at St. Matthew’s Riverdale on the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 27th, 2014.

The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Year A, 2014 – Ezekiel 34:11-16; Psalm 87; 2 Timothy 4:1-8; John 21:15-19

When you are confronted with the risen and living Jesus your life changes forever, one way or another. Both St. Peter and St. Paul who we remember today knew this well and were martyred — that is, killed for their faith in Jesus — in Rome. It is said of St. Peter that he was crucified, upside down. St. Paul? Beheaded. How do the deaths of these two saints many years ago have anything to do with our life here today?

What was it that made Peter and Paul apostles? It wasn’t simply that they knew and walked with Jesus during his earthly ministry — Paul didn’t, after all. It was rather, I think, that they both met the risen Jesus and were given by him a task to do. This is what apostle means — messenger, or sent one.

How did they come to meet the risen Jesus? Did they simply know where to find him? No, the Bible is clear in both cases, and this is true as a general rule: the risen Jesus revealed himself to them, he pulled back the veil, as it were, opening their eyes to know and love him. Paul, though he was named Saul then, was knocked off his horse and blinded as he rode to Damascus: “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” (Acts 9:3-5). The same was true of Peter. Immediately prior to our gospel reading this morning the risen Jesus stood on the beach and called out to the disciples as they were fishing. Once they saw him they came rushing onto the beach where Jesus had breakfast waiting. But they saw him, John tells us, because the risen Jesus “showed himself” to them (21:1, 14). Perhaps the risen and living Jesus has confronted you in some way and you have come to know and love him in return and that’s why you’re here this morning. Perhaps you’re here because you hope and want to meet the risen Jesus and you feel that this is a place where that’s likely to happen? Perhaps you don’t know why you’re here this morning. Whatever the case, the resurrected Jesus has promised to be here in our midst, and he is.

Paul and Peter were changed as a result of this meeting. Their whole lives were taken up into Jesus’ own life and they were given a task to do. See Peter in our gospel reading from this morning. So, Jesus and the disciples finish eating breakfast and Jesus pulls Peter aside. I imagine them going for a walk down the shore while the rest of the disciples stayed by the fire eating and telling rude jokes (they were fishermen, after all). Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and three times Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Of course, Peter’s threefold profession of love for Jesus corresponds to his threefold denial of him earlier in the gospel. And so, by way of forgiveness Jesus gives Peter a job to do. When Peter professes his love Jesus doesn’t say, “Well, good then!” He says, “Well, then: feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep.” Each time Peter answers the question he earns, not a pat on the back, but a command, a fresh challenge, a new commission — time to learn how to be a shepherd.

This is what makes both St. Peter and St. Paul apostles: they met the risen Jesus and he gave them a job to do, a job which he empowered them to carry out. This is the very thing that runs through the heart of the church still: the risen Jesus has revealed himself to us in our midst and as a result our whole lives have been swept up into the life of Jesus, in a sort of divine confiscation, and we’ve been sent on a mission.

Now it’s worth noting that Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” Not only does Jesus trust Peter to get back to work after his earlier denial of him — which, by the way, ought to be a great encouragement to us all in light of the many and varied ways in which we too deny Jesus — but here Jesus shares his own work, his own ministry with Peter. Jesus entrusts his sheep to Peter just as the Father had entrusted them to him, and thereby gave Peter a share in his own authority. It is, after all, Jesus who is the Good Shepherd (John 10). It is Jesus who in Ezekiel says: “I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out…I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered…I will gather them and bring them into their own land; and I will feed them…I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down…I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” This is Jesus’ doing. He knows his sheep and they know him and he has given his life for them. Yet a little earlier in John’s gospel the risen Jesus gives his disciples a specific commission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” (20:21).

This is the secret of all Christian ministry, yours and mine, lay and ordained, full-time or part-time — whether you sit quietly and pray for your neighbours or whether you’re the Archbishop of Canterbury — all ministry is primarily a participation in Christ’s own ministry, all our doing is rooted in and taken up into Christ’s own doing, all our work flows forth from our being sent by Jesus in the same way that the Father sent the Son.

It’s not our ministry, it’s Christ’s, though we really do have a part to play in it and it’s really us who play that part.

This was true for Peter and Paul and it is true for all of us as well. In Jesus we are forgiven and healed and given new work to do precisely as a sign that we are forgiven and that Jesus lives and reigns and we with him. I would imagine that this would change everything we do: from knit night, to neighbourhood BBQs, from gathering for prayer, to sharing a meal with a neighbour.

The work that we have been given to do, because it is a participation in Jesus’s ongoing ministry, is the same work that Peter and Paul were given to do, albeit in a different setting and thus perhaps with some different nuances. Thus, Paul’s exhortations and warnings to Timothy from this morning’s reading may serve us well. If the work that we have been given to do begins, as Paul said earlier to Timothy, with, “the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life,” (2 Timothy 1:10) — that is, the work we are given to do flows out of our encountering the risen and living Jesus — then the end to which our work is headed is the second appearing of Christ Jesus when his kingdom will finally and fully be established and he will judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). Here in his letter to Timothy, Paul assumes that Christ is already present with Christians but that we still await his appearance, when he will come as judge, to set the world right. The risen Jesus has given us work to do, a share in his own ministry, and because Jesus will appear again as judge it is important to get on with the work.

It is in light of all of this that Paul urges Timothy to “proclaim the message” or “announce the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). This of course is very closely related to the Scriptures — which for Timothy would have been the Old Testament, but for us today includes the New Testament as well, that apostolic teaching that has been received and handed on for the last 2,000 years — but it refers particularly to the Christian message, the announcement that Jesus is Lord, which is itself rooted in the Old Testament prophets, and focused on telling what happened to Jesus, hammering home the point that, through his resurrection and ascension, he is now installed as King and Lord (N.T. Wright).

Furthermore, like the parable of the sower who sows the seed, that is the word, regardless of what sort of ground it lands on, Timothy must continue in this work whether the moment seems “favourable or unfavourable”. Is there a greater temptation for the church than the temptation to give up preaching and teaching the gospel when the time seems unfavourable?

In good Modern democratic societies such as ours, societies that are exclusively inclusive and intolerantly tolerant, the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” is rather unfashionable if not entirely jarring and subversive. Thus, in a climate such as ours it may well be tempting for the church to bend the word of truth to suit our own expectations — how can we fill these pews? — or the expectations of others — people just don’t like to hear that stuff today!

“For the time is coming,” says Paul, “when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”

Strong words. Strong words aimed first at those in the church. Paul isn’t lamenting those outside of the church who have “itching ears” but those inside the church who neglect and even reject the “sound doctrine” or “healthy teaching” that the likes of Peter and Paul have handed on to us in Holy Scripture, and died for, and have instead “accumulated for themselves teachers to suit their own desires.” Like people being instructed by their doctors to follow a particular diet, they will discover that half of their favourite foods aren’t on it, and so will look for different doctors who will advise them to eat and drink what they like (N.T. Wright). Suiting their message to match the desires of the people, this is what false teachers do.

In contrast to this, Timothy is to persevere.

The best thing that the church can do for herself and for the world is to faithfully and persistently proclaim and embody the faith once received.

Keep on, keepin’ on, as it were. Whether the time is favourable or unfavourable. Whether the message is received or rejected — sow the seed. Whether we are embraced or excluded — proclaim the message. Both Paul and Peter were killed, remember. They knew a thing or two about unfavourable conditions. This is not an excuse to be aggressive or pushy — it is to be done with the “utmost patience” after all. Thus, Timothy is expected to be “sober” — the awareness and capacity for clear judgement. How does the church stay sober? Prayer and mutual submission, one to another, are two things that come to mind.

The whole church is called to participate in the work and mission of the risen and living Christ Jesus, as St. Peter and St. Paul were called. Have you been baptized into Christ? You are a new creature and have been outfitted as a co-worker in the kingdom of God right here on earth. Let us go on announcing Jesus as Lord. What is required of us is not success — as the world regards success — but loyalty and perseverance. And should the church in the West survive as a “tiny and despised community”, may it be so and “let her attend to the authenticity of her own life: Let her cultivate Eucharist and its associated practices of mutual care, with the world viewing this strange body. God may bless such a witness,” (Robert Jenson).Let’s get on with it, in the power of the Holy Spirit, who continues to be poured out upon the followers of Jesus to this day so that, in our friendship with him, we might participate here-and-now in the life of God Himself, and invite others to taste and see. Amen.

 
Sermon was preached at St. Matthew’s Riverdale on the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 29th, 2014.

Easter 5A, 2014 – Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

“Believe in God, believe also in me.”

I speak to you in the name of the Living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Being a Christian oughta scare the [fill in the blank] out of us. I figure that at least one of the reasons why you and I are not so scared has to do with how we hear that short portion of John’s gospel I just said a moment ago before praying: “Believe in God, believe also in me.” Believe. We know already that this is central to the whole purpose for John having written down his account of the gospel for he tells us as much (20:31). But what isbelief and why for so many of us does it serve rather to make us comfortable and content?

There are far too many Christians who would see no problem making the following statement: “I believe Jesus is Lord…but that’s just my personal opinion,” (Stanley Hauerwas). What produces this? How are Christians so formed? It has to do with the good liberal democratic distinction between private life—where faith resides—and public life. As such, “belief” names that which we hold to be true privately, intellectually, but has no real bearing on our public lives. In other words, you can come to church and believe all of these nice things but once you walk out those doors don’t you dare let those beliefs follow you out into your families and jobs and neighbourhoods. This tension was illustrated this week when the Catholic Archbishop of Toronto Thomas Cardinal Collins wrote a letter to Justin Trudeau asking him to reconsider his recent edict that any candidate with the Liberal Party of Canada had to be publicly pro-choice with respect to abortion: Your “political authority is not limitless,” wrote Collins.[1] In Trudeau’s response he cited his father Pierre as his example, “who had deeply, deeply held personal views that were informed by the fact that he went to church every Sunday, read the Bible regularly to us, and raised us very, very religious, very Catholic.”[2] And so it is, you see, in liberal democratic societies such as ours faith and religious belief is encouraged so long as it remains a private matter, or in Trudeau’s words, “deeply personal”.

Yet, this whole way of thinking about and practicing one’s faith is utterly foreign to the gospel, as if Jesus were simply interested in changing our opinion about who he is as opposed to transforming our entire life.

As a Christian I don’t have a private life, nor do you—it’s all public. That Jesus is Lord is going to make our lives quite dysfunctional. Believing that God was in Christ reconciling the world is crazy, and it’ll make your life, our life, really weird (Hauerwas).

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Thus, in light of what I’ve said already, we should substitute the word “trust” for “believe”: “Trust in God, trust also in me.” This gets more to the heart of what Jesus is saying, I think. Jesus has been with his disciples but the time has come for him to go away and they are understandably anxious about where he is going and whether they will be able to follow him. The world may appear to have gone mad, but the disciples must continue to trust that God is in control.

Last week we heard Jesus say, “I am the gate,” (John 10:7-9). This week we get a glimpse of what lies on the other side of the gate once we enter through it: “I am the way.” That is to say, we are not yet where we are going, we are pilgrims, exiles, nomads. God in Christ took on flesh and entered into the space and time in which we live our daily lives. He has now gone on ahead of us to prepare a place but the only way to get there is to follow the Way himself and to do so in and through the space and time that make up our daily life: “For your name’s sake lead me and guide me,” says the Psalmist (31:3). Consider also the two images which we heard St. Peter use this morning: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation,” and again, “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” Leading, guiding, growing, being built. All of this to say that faith in the risen Jesus is not a finish line, but is rather the beginning of a long and sometimes arduous, albeit joyous, journey of spiritual formation. But along the way our eyes will be opened to see the risen Jesus right there beside us as we saw a few weeks ago with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

And this is risky, it is adventurous because it means the giving up of our whole lives over to Jesus. As the Psalmist said, “My times are in your hand,” (31:15). Or as Peter wrote, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people,” (2:10). You are not your own, you are God’s people and yourwhole life is in his hand. This is risky, indeed. For Stephen, it was something that he was willing to die for. In the face of his own impending death there is only one thing that is left for Stephen to do…trust: “While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” (Acts 7:59). The words of Jesus from the cross, which are themselves taken from the Psalm we sang together this morning: “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God,” (31:5). You can see how the formation of Christians who are willing to die might pose a problem for liberal democratic societies wherein faith is encouraged so long as it remains a private matter.

So, what of this public faith that leaves no corner of our lives or world unturned? Let us hear the words of Jesus: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who trusts in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these,” (14:12). That is to say that the Christian faith is such that it is literally practiced. Peter too has something to say here: not only are we built into the temple of God, but we are the workers of the temple as well, “a holy priesthood…offer[ing] spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

The work that the church is called to do in the world through Jesus Christ is not work reserved for clergy. You who can hear my voice this morning, have you received the risen Christ? You then, as a member of the church of God, are a royal priesthood. There is work for us to do. What is that work? The primary work of the church, our first responsibility, is the truthful worship of the one true God. Indeed, the word ‘liturgy’ means, “the work of the people.”

Worship is work, and it is radical work at that, for if Jesus is enthroned, all else is dethroned.

In this primary work of worship our whole life is formed and out of it flows a life that has been made one with Jesus and as such gets to work in our families, jobs, neighbourhoods and in the world. And this whole life, our whole common life right here in Riverdale, and the whole life of the church throughout space and time exists so that the mighty acts of the Living God who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light might be proclaimed and embodied for the whole wide world to hear and see (1 Peter 2:9). That the gospel is both proclaimed and embodied is a point not to be missed. We can’t talk about what it means to believe, to worship Jesus, apart from the work of the community that the gospel forms. That is to say, the proclamation of the gospel always forms a community around the living Jesus which embodies the gospel in it’s very life.

This is why training is at the heart of Christianity. Prayer is training; Singing is training; tithing is training; reading the Bible is training; caring for the poor among us is training; being patient with one another is training. To be followers of the Way, is to be engaged in an ongoing process of learning and being trained to do the work that is inseparable from the training. And in the process of the training Jesus transforms us in ways that we don’t even notice in order to do the work that needs to be done (Hauerwas). Of course, I think we need to believe stuff—I like to think that I’m orthodox in my own belief. The problem is that ‘belief’ as an indicator of what makes one a Christian tends to separate the language of the faith from the work of the faith. The point is, Christianity is performative.

A few months back I told someone that I wanted to read more Shakespeare this year. He discouraged me from doing so by suggesting that Shakespeare was meant to be performed, not read. Too often people, including Christians, think that Christianity is like the text of Hamlet, rather than the actual production of Hamlet. It has to be performed in order to understand what it is. Unfortunately, Christians so often want to make Christianity a text rather than a performance.

As we journey along with the risen Jesus and follow after him to the place where he is going, will we let ourselves be built into a spiritual house? Will we embrace our calling as a holy priesthood? Are we willing to be trained, and to grow up from infancy into spiritual maturity in Christ? This will demand nothing less than your whole life—you’ll have no claim over yourself, your family, and your stuff anymore. It’s an adventure—and this is precisely why we need to trust the God who has come to us in Jesus. “Trust in God, trust also in me.”

Are we willing to follow Jesus when it puts us in the terribly vulnerable position of being able to do nothing other than trust? This is the Christian faith. This is why we need to rush together on Sunday mornings, not only to worship but to gather for protection: “In you, O LORD, I seek refuge…Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me,” (Psalm 31).

But, if Jesus so grabs hold of us, scary as that may be, we may just find that we are made participants in the ongoing history of God’s care of the world through the promises made to the people of Israel whom, in Christ, we have been grafted into. And through our participation in this ongoing history our whole life will be taken up into the life of Jesus and we will be God’s witness in the world that he has not abandoned the world to sin.

Let us pray along with St. Ambrose: Lord Jesus, we do follow you, but we can come only at your bidding. No one can make the ascent without you, for you are our way, our truth, our life, our strength, our confidence, our reward. Be the way that receives us, the truth that strengthens us, the life that invigorates us. Amen.

[1]http://www.archtoronto.org/events_news/pdf/justintrudeaumay1414.pdf
[2]http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Trudeau+defends+abortion+stance+cites+father+protection+rights/9843139/story.html

Sermon was preached at St. Matthew’s Riverdale on the fifth Sunday in Easter, May 18th, 2014.

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